A Brick Wall or a Yellow Brick Road?

brick-960039_1280

Working with traumatized individuals I often hear people say they have trouble getting beyond an emotional “wall” they have built. We create these walls as a defense to protect ourselves after we’ve been hurt by someone. A wall can act as a strict boundary that says “keep out” or “no trespassing.” As I listen to people talk about the walls they’ve built to keep themselves safe, I also hear them express hope that these walls might come down because they feel very isolated behind them. Our walls  can become prisons. Some people say they would be happier if they could just remove a brick or two. This post is to help you try to visualize what a happy life might look like beyond your wall.

Imagine your wall and picture each brick you have placed. When did you first start building your protective wall? What do you remember about the first brick you laid that started your wall? How has your wall kept you safe? How has your wall been a barrier to healthy relationships or other things you want for yourself? What kind of boundaries would you prefer to set with others without the help of your wall?

What if you could lay that wall down and see that it creates a brick road stretched out before you. (Think Wizard of Oz with the yellow brick road spiraling it’s way outward.) Maybe you’ve been building your wall higher and higher for some time now and, as you think about laying that wall down, you see that it extends for miles ahead. Because you have been stuck behind this wall for so long, you might find that you feel both excited and terrified about where this road might lead. Because this is your road (you built it after all!) you can travel on it at whatever speed you want to. You can run full speed ahead without looking back, or maybe you prefer to take your time and slowly explore everything along the way.

Where would you like this new road to take you? Who would you like to travel alongside you as you journey down this road? Again, because this is your road, you don’t have to take anybody with you that you don’t want to and nobody can join you unless you invite them. What would you like to see along the journey down your road? What activities would you most like to take part in now that you’re no longer behind that wall?

Maybe you’re someone who has been building a thick, sturdy wall instead of a tall one. This type of wall might make a good bridge if you tipped it over, helping you cross deep, scary trenches. Maybe you’ve been in those trenches before and your bridge gives you safe passage now. Where would you like your bridge to take you? What would you like your bridge to connect you to? What would you leave behind as you cross your bridge? How would you feel about leaving those things behind?

If your wall is too tall or too thick, and you can’t imagine stepping out from behind it right now, what if you choose to remove a brick or two? What is the first thing you would hope to see? Every brick has a story, or reason, for being added to your wall. What is the first brick you would like to work on removing from your wall? Although your wall has been helpful in many ways, what annoys you about your wall?

Feel free to reflect on the questions here and comment with your thoughts about the emotional walls we build or comment about your own wall you’ve built.

 

 

Post inspired by the daily prompt: Brick

 

Fear-less

Life Without Fear

How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? We all feel fear from time to time. If we’re out hiking and we see a bear it’s likely we’ll have a sense of danger and feel fear. We have an identifiable source of our uncomfortable feeling: the bear. If you were incapable of feeling fear, you might approach her while she’s hunting for food with both her cubs. It’s likely you wouldn’t have a very good outcome in this situation!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALike all emotions, fear has a purpose. It’s job is to protect us from dangerous situations.

People who struggle with trauma-related conditions frequently feel as though they’re living in a constant state of fear. It’s like they are seeing the bear over and over and it feels very real even though the bear is no longer there. This can be where anxiety begins. Fear is something we feel when there is an imminent, identifiable danger. Anxiety is a feeling of tension occurring  when we think about danger. Anxiety is about your thoughts of danger, fear is about a visible source of danger. For trauma survivors, a life without fear may seem like a blessing! Waking up one morning and not feeling any fear may seem like a miracle for some who live with fear on a daily basis. However, some amount of fear can help protect us.

Types of Fears Survivors May Have

  • Fear of sleeping due to nightmares
  • Fear of being judged by service providers
  • Fear of more abuse by a perpetrator
  • Fear of losing close relationships
  • Fear of not being believed
  • Fear of trusting others
  • Fear that your reactions will be unpredictable
  • Fear that life will end early or suddenly
  • Fear that the traumatic event will happen again

Managing Fear

The goal when working with fear is not to become fearless but to fear less. Recovery from trauma is possible if you work actively to make changes. The following are some ways to begin managing your trauma-related fears.

  • Identify triggers
  • Gain awareness of the connection between the trauma and its consequences
  • Use healthy coping skills
  • Build social support
  • Practice spirituality
  • Access community resources (legal, mental health, advocacy, medical, etc.)
  • Maintain a daily routine
  • Recognize positive moments to build optimism
  • Pay attention to your self-talk and use positive language

Positive personal growth is possible following trauma. Some individuals are able to gain a new sense of meaning or purpose in life after a traumatic event. Others share lessons they learned from their difficult experiences and provide valuable education about recovery. Keep in mind that fear is there to protect you. Learning how to manage fear takes time. Survivors are generally resilient and capable of developing skills that can help manage symptoms and possibly prevent long term problems.

 

~Inspired by the daily prompt Fearless Fantasies ~

The Guest House

The following is a great poem on emotions. It encourages acceptance of all your feelings, the good and bad, positive and negative and reminds us that, like house guests, all feelings come and go. Some linger longer than others but, eventually, they move on. It ends with the idea that our feelings are there to tell us something, which is why it’s important to be in touch with them and listen to what they’re trying to say.

vgogh

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 ~ Rumi ~

(13th Century Persian Philosopher and Poet)

Express Yourself

irises1

I know very little about art, except for maybe a few general things. I know that I like some art, dislike other art, and feel neutral about the rest of it. I know there are various mediums people use to create art, like sculptures, painting, photography, poetry, writing, dance, theater, music, and drawing. In another post, I wrote about how I find counseling to be a form of creativity. I also know I appreciate the work that goes into creating a piece of art, whether it’s something I like, or not. I am frequently filled with admiration for peoples’ creative abilities.

Another thing I know about art is that it can be a great way for you to Irises2express yourself. It can be a way to take what’s “inside” and share it with the outside world. It can feel rewarding to see a finished product or to turn an idea into a reality.

Artistic expression can also play a role in your mental health. One of the signs of depression, for example, is a loss of interest in things that you normally enjoy. If you notice a sense of sadness and lack of energy and just can’t seem to motivate yourself to do the activity you usually enjoy, pay attention to your mood and notice whether it lingers longer than you think it should, especially if it worsens or doesn’t go away after a couple weeks. Sometimes picking your hobby up again can be a step toward a better mood. Art can also help you manage anxiety by channeling that restless energy into something constructive, it can be a healthy skill to use for self-care and to cope with distressing feelings.

Some of my favorite art is from Vincent van Gogh who I learned suffered from a combination of physical and mental illness, both of which were made worse by his abuse of alcohol. In addition to his paintings, van Gogh also expressed himself through handwritten letters in which he described his struggle with his illnesses. Although van Gogh’s story ends tragically with his death at the age of 37, it is also a story that shows hope as he sought meaning and explored his mental and physical problems through his painting, spirituality, and writings. I think that artistic expression not only allows us to gain a greater understanding of the artist but gives us a greater understanding of ourselves as well. Maybe in this way, art acts as a way to connect us with ourselves and with others.

How do you express yourself creatively? In what way does your artistic or creative ability help you manage stressors in your life?

 

Inspired by a prompt from ~The Artist’s Eye ~

Stress & Nutrition

healthyWhat is your favorite thing to eat? Is it sweet, crunchy, or chewy? Does it taste better eaten hot or cold? Do you look forward to eating it once a year during special occasions or do you eat it more often? What is it about that particular food that makes it your favorite? Does it have a special meaning for you? Is it a comfort food?

I often meet with people who refer to themselves as “stress eaters,” someone who eats more often and less healthily when they’re under stress. Other people I meet with identify themselves as the opposite, someone who loses their appetite when under stress. Feeling anxious or stressed can affect our relationship with food and we may eat more or less depending on how our bodies respond to that stress. chocolate-chip-cookies

Some foods and the ingredients in them are associated with increased anxiety such as caffeine, sugar, candy, and soda pop. People frequently also consume alcohol or nicotine which can affect mood. Salt is sometimes related to an increase in blood pressure. Anxiety can be associated with heart disease, especially with frequently increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

Being mindful of the food you eat can help manage anxiety. Maintaining a diet with balanced amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, nuts, and proteins can help manage anxiety and boost your mood. These foods contain vitamins and are associated with your brain’s production of dopamine and serotonin which can affect levels of energy and alertness.

Here are a few general tips to help improve your mood and manage nutrition and anxiety:

  • Drink plenty of water, dehydration can affect your mood
  • Use caffeine in moderation, it can make you feel jittery or nervous and can act as a diuretic which may lead to dehydration
  • Consume alcohol in moderation, it can interfere with sleep
  • Find enjoyable ways to be active to manage weight, reduce anxiety, and improve your heart health
  • Get plenty of rest, lack of sleep is associated with stimulating areas of the brain that process emotions and can trigger anxiety
  • Learn ways to relax, if you’re someone who loses your appetite when anxiety sets in it can help to know that appetite usually returns once you’re in a more relaxed state

What do you notice about your relationship with food when you feel anxious?

 Inspired by a prompt from ~Pour Some Sugar on Me~


That Haunting Feeling of Guilt

Maybe you know that feeling, that one that arises when you believe your behavior is inappropriate in some way and goes against a set of values or moral standards. You feel as though you’ve done something that will result in disapproval from the people around you and that haunting feeling of guilt sets in.

We often think of guilt as being a negative and unpleasant emotion. It can feed a feeling of anxiety as we fear disapproval or judgment from others. However, like most negative and unpleasant emotions, that guilt is trying to tell you something needs to change. Guilt can be reframed in a positive light. It can build prosocial behavior by motivating you to take part in your community, encouraging you to help family or neighbors, and it can inspire you to eat healthy and exercise.

Most people don’t want to be solely motivated by guilt though. Guilt doesn’t feel good! When working with guilt it can help to consider your values and what your intention is for alleviating the feeling. If you ask yourself “why should I help my neighbor?” and your answer is “because I’ll feel guilty if I don’t” then you are being motivated by guilt. However, if you ask yourself “why should I help my neighbor?” and your answer is “because it’s the compassionate thing to do” then you are demonstrating an intention to help based on your value of compassion, not guilt.

Guilt can be worked with in several ways.

  1. Learn from your behavior. If you did do something wrong and had a negative result, learn from what you did so you don’t repeat the same negative outcome in the future.
  2. Be accountable for your actions. Take responsibility by apologizing, acknowledging your mistake or behavior, and be careful to not let the behavior happen again.
  3. Recognize what you can and cannot change. If you can change something about the situation, change it! If you can’t change what happened, find healthy ways to move on.
  4. Share your experience with others. If you’ve learned something from your experience with guilt, share your knowledge with others so they might prevent the same outcome from happening.
  5. If you’ve done nothing wrong and can’t place why you’re feeling guilty, talk with someone about it. Guilt can be a sign that something unhealthy is going on with your thinking and talking about it can help sort out where the feeling might be coming from.

Inspired by a prompt from The Guilt that Haunts Me